Jan 11, 2019, 9:48 AM ET

American Paul Whelan formally charged with espionage in Russia

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Russia on Friday said American Paul Whelan, who was arrested last month in Moscow, has been formally charged with espionage.

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Whelan was charged under Article 276 of Russia's criminal code, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters at a televised briefing.

Whelan, a former United States Marine, was detained Dec. 28 by Russia's domestic intelligence agency, the FSB, which accused him of espionage. His Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, has said Whelan contests the charge and intends to plead not guilty.

PHOTO: Paul Whelan is pictured in this undated photo released by his family.Whelan family
Paul Whelan is pictured in this undated photo released by his family.

Russian news agency Interfax reported on Jan. 3 that Whelan had been formally charged, citing anonymous security service sources. But Zakharova's comments on Friday were Russia's first public confirmation of it.

Russia has still not provided any details of the charge against Whelan. Announcing his arrest, the FSB said he had been detained while conducting "spying activity" but has not elaborated.

The foreign ministry spokeswoman also said Friday that exchanging Whelan for anyone imprisoned outside Russia was not being considered.

"I'd like to underline that the exchange of Paul Whelan for anyone incarcerated abroad is currently not on the table," Zakharova said, according to Russian news agency Interfax. "The defendant will stand trial."

PHOTO: Russian Foreign Ministrys spokeswoman Maria Zakharova speaks to the media during her weekly briefing in Moscow.Anton Denisov/Sputnik via AP
Russian Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova speaks to the media during her weekly briefing in Moscow.

Some former U.S. intelligence officers have speculated Whelan may have been taken in retaliation over the jailing of Maria Butina, the Russian gun rights activist who last month pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to acting as a foreign agent. She has admitted to trying to infiltrate American conservative political circles.

Zherebenkov has suggested that Whelan could later be exchanged for Russians held in U.S. jails, including Butina. He noted, however, that Whelan could only be traded once he has been convicted.

News - American Paul Whelan formally charged with espionage in Russia

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  • James Messmer

    americans are so naive as to what many countries, ourselves included, do regarding espionage. we're light years ahead of most.

  • James Messmer

    this guys history is so sketchy it's entirely possible there is something here. BCD discharge from the service and he still gets a high end security job???

  • ROBOTIX JONES

    Putin is angry we captured their spy girl, Butina.

  • Former Earthling

    We now need to reciprocate by arresting the Russian spy in the WH.

  • John Macassey

    Well, as we know being a spy does carry risks. Surely by now they know the risks involved. He is either very brave or simply naive.

  • Jim J.

    Let's put it this way: From what we've been told, it doesn't look good for him.

  • xia

    Quid pro quo. There will be an exchange.

  • JesterMarcus

    Who falls in love with Russia after visiting it? Seriously, who goes to Russia of all places, and thinks, "this place is awesome!"?

  • mm

    Hope seal team six is going to take care of this:)

  • Former Earthling

    One less Trump supporter to worry about. They can keep him.

  • Prophet With Honor

    This whole affair still baffles me. Too vague with loose ends.

  • BLW51

    Conviction doesn't take long in Russia, and Russia wants their "citizen" back.